DENVER: Chipotle outlined how it is "moving aggressively" to address an E. coli outbreak in the Pacific Northwest that has affected 35 customers since mid-October.
Chris Arnold, the company’s communications director, emailed PRWeek a statement late Tuesday afternoon about the steps the restaurant chain has taken to address the issue. The company posted the statement to its IR page.
"This statement will be online, and our social media folks have it and will make a determination as to whether to post -- they sometimes send a link to the release when people inquire about it," Arnold said via email.
The Mexican fast-food chain, in the release, explained the specific actions it has taken since the outbreak began, including closing 43 restaurants in Oregon and Washington State "out of an abundance of caution, even though only eight restaurants have drawn concern." Investigators are searching for the cause.
Chipotle also explained that it has conducted additional deep-cleaning procedures, began environmental testing, and replaced all food items in the closed restaurants, as well as continuing to help with the investigation.
It has also hired food-safety consulting firms IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group to help the chain assess and improve its food-safety standards.
"The safety of our customers and integrity of our food supply has always been our highest priority," Chipotle chairman and co-CEO Steve Ells said in the release.
He extended his "deepest sympathies" to those who have been affected by the situation.
Through Monday, Chipotle had said little publicly on the matter since the Oregon Health Authority posted an initial statement about the matter two days earlier. Late Tuesday, authorities increased the number of cases linked to the restaurant to 35.
The chain’s website and social media pages, as well as the company’s homepage, have made no proactive mention of the outbreak or restaurant closures. However, its social media team has actively monitored and responded to tweets with questions or concerns about the crisis.
Some crisis communications experts said earlier this week that Chipotle should be more transparent about the crisis.
"Keeping so quiet could harm Chipotle," Nick Kalm, founder and president of Reputation Partners, told PRWeek on Monday. "They should have a statement on their website even though it does run counter to their wholesome and beautiful-looking food image; this is a serious health issue and people could die or get seriously ill."